The British beef debacle will continue to plague the Government, but
McDonald’s appears to have made a happy meal of the situation by putting
the health of their customers first says crisis and communications
consultant Michael Bland
The ingredients of successful crisis handling are simple enough: act
sooner rather than later; be seen to act; and tell your important
audiences what they want to hear, not what you want to tell them. It’s
so simple that it seldom happens, so it was good to see McDonald’s doing
it over British beef.
Another element of crisis is that before long, your publics have only a
vague general impression of what happened (a day after the Kegworth air
disaster no-one could remember what British Midland chairman Mike Bishop
had said on camera the previous evening - they just remembered that it
So the niceties about whether McDonald’s acted too quickly, or
cynically, or whether or not British beef is actually dangerous will
soon be forgotten. All that will remain in the subliminal public mind
will be the idea that McDonald’s doesn’t take any risks with its
customers’ health - and that’s a hell of an impression for your
customers to have. Well done McDonald’s!
Mind you, they had a much easier decision to make than the Government.
McDonald’s have only one lobby that matters - their customers - and they
don’t have to rely on farmers’ votes to keep them in office. They could
afford to take the action they did.
For once I feel a little sympathy for the Government. BSE is an
immensely complex issue and anyone who says they have the PR solution
doesn’t understand the problem. Unfortunately, whatever action the
Government now takes is against a backdrop of public mistrust - and that
they have thoroughly deserved through their years of dismally mismanaged
communications. Eggs, poll tax, BSE stage I - at every turn they have
thought that ‘communicating’ meant telling people your side of things.
Anyone who’s ever been involved in a simple domestic argument will know
that just saying ‘you’re wrong, I’m right’ doesn’t achieve anything. Yet
that, in effect, is what the Government has done all along. When BSE
cropped up the first time it screamed out for some sort of demonstration
that they were taking our health seriously, even if they believed that
there was no danger.
Instead we were treated to the patronising spectacle of the agriculture
minister stuffing a beefburger down his daughter’s throat - a low point
in the history of government communications.
I’m glad that it has come back to haunt them.